Diamond in the rough
Rolls Royce claims top off-road ability in its gem of an SUV
To gasps of shock and awe, Rolls-Royce has finally shown the world the SUV it has been threatening to introduce for the last three years. The Cullinan will go on sale before the end of year priced at around £250,000 a pop, and that’s not the only reason there’s nothing else out there like it.
The car is simply vast in every respect. It not only costs nearly £90,000 more than the flagship version of the rival Bentley Bentayga, it is 200mm longer, 166mm wider and 93mm higher. As for its weight it is some 220kg heavier, tipping the scales at a barely believable 2660kg despite its all-aluminium construction. Those who believe that bigger is better almost by definition (and who can afford it) will feel that all their Christmases have come at once. The somewhat mixed reception to its styling is not believed likely to impede sales in the face of such grandeur.
Like other Rolls-Royces, the Cullinan’s aluminium spaceframe chassis will be put together in Munich as will its 6.75-litre, twin-turbo V12 engine (18.8mpg on the combined cycle as you’re asking), before being sent to Goodwood for final assembly, paint and trim. Rolls-Royce has not yet felt the need to muddy its hands with public declarations of acceleration times, but we know its weight and that the engine has 563bhp and 626lb ft of torque so we know it will be slower than the more powerful, torquey and lighter Bentley, but not by how much. My guess is a 0-62mph sprint of around 4.8sec compared to its rival’s 4.0sec, not that this should trouble a Rolls-Royce customer in the least.
Of more importance will be the fact that the Cullinan will be just as opulent as any other Rolls-Royce and just as easy to personalise to the owner’s individual taste so long as they are prepared to spend the money. And they are: I understand the average option spend on a Rolls-Royce tops £50,000.
But the Cullinan will not be for show alone. In perhaps the ultimate example of a car company providing talent most owners would never dream of tapping into, Rolls-Royce appears to have tried as hard with the Cullinan’s off-road ability as its strengths in more usual surroundings. Said to be able to go wherever a Range Rover can go, the Rolls SUV comes with a completely configurable four-wheel drive system offering specific settings for sand, rocks and mud. It seems that even in a departure from the usual Rolls-Royce script as radical as the Cullinan, the need to appear authentic and able in all regards remains as much a part of the brief as in any of its more conventional products.
There is no news concerning other variants of the Cullinan but as Rolls-Royce has not in the modern era built one new car without spinning at least one other from it, it seems unlikely the Cullinan will be Rolls’ sole off-roader. It has been estimated that the Cullinan all by itself could increase Rolls sales by as much as 50 per cent and become its best-selling model, and with Bentley already working on a sleeker, more sporting Bentayga, it would be brave to bet that Rolls-Royce will not produce something similar in the years ahead
SHARPER ASTON DB11
Two years after its introduction, Aston Martin has already replaced the DB11 V12, the car on whose back the much vaunted ‘second century plan’ was launched. The new car, the DB11 AMR, represents a significantly enhanced reworking of the original, of which almost 4000 have been built since sales began in 2016.
At the AMR’s heart lies a 630bhp version of Aston’s home-grown 5.2-litre, twin-turbo V12, a rise of 30bhp but still a long way short of its potential: the engine is believed to develop 700bhp in the forthcoming DBS Superleggera, believed to have been achieved without major internal modification. Nevertheless the DB11 AMR enjoys a useful 0.2sec cut in its 0-62mph time, now 3.7sec despite the traction limitations inherent in its front-engine, rear-drive design. Less usefully but more impressively, its top speed has risen from 200 to 208mph.
Aston talks in less detail about its recalibrated chassis, though in truth this was likely to be one of the larger areas of activity; the team was known to want the DB11 to offer greater levels of driver interaction without harming its ride and refinement. Aiding this is a new tune for the exhaust system and a reprogrammed eight-speed autobox offering quicker, sharper shifts. Visually you are most likely to notice the AMR by its monochrome detailing, including dark headlamp surrounds, smoked rear lamps, gloss back roof and darkened front grille and tail pipes.
Why has this car come so soon and why has is it being produced as a replacement for the original DB11 V12 rather than an addition the range? The answer is likely to have its basis in the fact that while the DB11 is very much associated with the recent renaissance of Aston Martin, the car itself was started while the company was under its previous management and, crucially, before the arrival of its Chief Engineer, ex-Lotus chassis guru Matt Becker who was only able to make detail changes to the car before production. Many of the more substantive (and well received) changes he wanted to make only arrived in time for the subsequent DB11 V8 model so the AMR represents an opportunity for him and his team to really make their mark on the car. The DB11 V12 they would have built had they been around at the time? I expect that’s near the mark. The car is on sale now for £174,995, up £17,095 over the car it replaces.
LOTUS FUTURE PLANS
We are getting slightly clearer indications of what the near future of Lotus might look like, now that money from new parent Geely is starting to flow. It seems that the new Lotus will be based on a three-model product line up, comprising a more upmarket replacement for the extant Elise and Exige models, a new crossover SUV and a new range topping supercar, likely to be considered a somewhat belated replacement for the Esprit.
Lotus is known to remain wedded to its long-held values of light weight, handling prowess and performance and it will be interesting to see how these can be applied to the traditionally heavy, cumbersome and relatively slow format of the SUV. But given the wonders that have visited the Volvo brand since it was bought by Geely, hopes must be high that a complete renaissance for the Norfolk brand remains on the cards.
No details of mechanical specifications of the forthcoming cars are yet known but it is likely that both the new Esprit and Elise replacement will be built up around aluminium extrusions, a technology that has served the Elise well for 23 years and has become popular among other brands like Aston Martin. By contrast the SUV is likely to be spun off an existing Volvo/Geely platform such as those used by the current XC40 and XC60. As for a power unit, Volvo already has a new and immensely versatile 2-litre, four cylinder offering outputs from 153bhp to 395bhp, and it would be a great surprise were Lotus not to take full advantage of this state of the art in-house technology.